Angela Ahrendts

Apple is committed to its promise of expanding its retail presence in China from 15 to 40 stores within two years. Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts told Chinese website Xinhua on Thursday that the iPhone maker is gearing up to open five new stores in roughly five weeks.

“We are opening five new stores before the Chinese New Year this year. Four of the stores are in brand new cities for us,” said Ahrendts in a telephone interview with Xinhua. The new locations will be opened in time for China‘s Spring Festival, a popular shopping season that commemorates the Chinese New Year, on February 19.

The first of five new locations opened last weekend in Zhengzhou, the capital of central China’s Henan Province. The second will be the upcoming Westlake Apple Store in Hangzhou, China, set to open on Saturday, January 24 at 9:00 AM local time. Zhengzhou and Hangzhou have populations of 9 million and 2.4 million people respectively.

Ahrendts did not state where the remaining three Apple Stores set to open will be located, although Apple has posted job listings for 15 new locations, including Anhui, Guizhou, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shandong, Shanxi and Tianjin, none of which currently have an official Apple retail presence.

“Apple China has increased its service staff by 75 percent since 2012 with over 3,700 retail employees now in Greater China,” writes Xinhua. “Expansion in China, Apple’s second largest market, is testament to the Apple’s commitment. As Ahrendts put it, ‘China is a huge and important market for every global company today.'”

When we outlined Angela Ahrendts’ retail strategies last year, China was unsurprisingly at the forefront of her action plan alongside mobile payments and an improved customer experience. Ahrendts has been well received by most Apple retail employees in her eight-plus months on the job, in stark contrast to her short-lived predecessor John Browett.

China has become an increasingly important market for Apple under the leadership of Tim Cook, who has always had close ties with the world’s most populous country since his days as head of operations under Steve Jobs. Cook previously noted that it is “just a matter of time” before China becomes Apple’s biggest source of revenue, a reservation that currently belongs to the United States.

“The fastest growing store for us is the Apple Online Store in China,” Ahrendts told Xinhua.

Back in the States in at least one Apple Store, an interesting observation comes from Fast Company’s Harry McCracken who noticed Apple displaying an aisle dedicated to iPads attached to third-party keyboards. As McCracken notes, Apple is pushing the iPad keyboard case concept while it lacks its own version.